UPDATED 15:33 EST / JUNE 16 2022

POLICY

EU introduces new code of practice for combating disinformation

The European Commission today detailed a new set of rules designed to combat disinformation on online platforms.

There are 34 signatories to the rules, which are known as the Code of Practice on Disinformation. The signatories include Meta Platforms Inc., Google LLC and Twitter Inc. The three tech giants are joined by a number of smaller tech firms as well as civil society and research organizations, industry groups and others.

The Code of Practice on Disinformation replaces an existing set of rules, also known as the Code of Practice on Disinformation, that was released in 2018. Signatories that operate major online platforms could be fined up to 6% of their annual global revenues if they are found to breach the rules. Specifically, fines may be issued if companies “repeatedly break the Code and do not carry out risk mitigation measures.”

“This new anti-disinformation Code comes at a time when Russia is weaponising disinformation as part of its military aggression against Ukraine, but also when we see attacks on democracy more broadly,” said Věra Jourová, the European Commission’s vice president for values and transparency. “We now have very significant commitments to reduce the impact of disinformation online and much more robust tools to measure how these are implemented across the EU in all countries and in all its languages.”

Under the new rules, signatories will have to take more steps to combat disinformation on their platforms. The code specifies that participating tech firms must “adopt, reinforce and implement clear policies” to tackle bots, fake accounts, manipulation campaigns, account takeovers, malicious deep fakes and other types of disinformation.

Online advertising is also a focus of the new rules. Tech companies and other players in the advertising ecosystem will be expected to “limit the placement of advertising on accounts and websites disseminating disinformation or next to disinformation content.” Additionally, signatories to the code must take steps to combat ads that contain disinformation. 

“Online platforms need to act much strongly, especially on the issue of funding,” said Thierry Breton, the EU’s commissioner for the Internal Market. “Disinformation should not bring a single euro to anyone.”

Another priority of the new rules is to ensure transparent political advertising. “To ensure users can distinguish political ads from other ads and content, clear labels will be applied to the content displayed,” the commission stated. “Signatories will also integrate the results of research and best practices into their labelling systems to improve user comprehension.”

As part of their efforts to combat online disinformation, tech companies that are signatories to the code will expand fact-checking activities. The participating companies have committed “to a consistent use of fact-checkers’ work on their services, with full coverage of all Member States and languages.” The rules will also ensure “structured and financially sustainable cooperation between the platforms and the fact-checking community.”

For users, signatories to the code must roll out new tools that will make it easier to recognize, understand and flag disinformation on their platforms. Researchers, in turn, will receive the ability to more easily access platforms’ data. The code ensures a “robust framework for access to platforms’ data for research purposes.”

Signatories such as Meta that operate major online platforms have six months to implement the rules in the code. Afterwards, signatories will have to continue providing updates on their compliance with the rules biannually. The EU will create a task force “with a strong monitoring framework based on regular reporting and multiple Service Level Indicators” to ensure companies’ compliance with the rules. 

Photo: Unsplash

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